Backcountry skiers need a hardshell jacket that will keep them dry and cool as they sweat their way up a mountain, but will also keep them protected from the snow and wind as they ski back down the mountain. While these demands seem to be the exact circumstances for which waterproof/breathable hardshells were invented, very few have found the perfect balance. Enter the Mountain Hardwear CloudSeeker, designed specifically for backcountry skiing, which meets these demands perfectly. By layering Mountain Hardwear's proprietary Dry.Q Elite air-permeable membrane with a thin 20D stretchy face fabric, this jacket is as mobile as they come, while still providing decent breathability. But it also includes four large zippered vents and a two-way front zipper for the best ventilation of any hardshell we tested. Combined with a feature set that has the skier firmly in mind — powder skirt, Recco reflector, and skin pockets — and you have our Top Pick for Backcountry Skiing.
Mountain Hardwear CloudSeeker Review
Cons: Heavy, fairly expensive, collar is a bit tight
Manufacturer: Mountain Hardwear
Our Analysis and Test Results
If it weren't for the fact that the CloudSeeker is the heaviest jacket in this review, it would probably have been the number one overall in our comparative rankings. As it is, it still weighs less than a pound and a half, and the weight conscious can choose to remove the powder skirt and save an additional two ounces. Even so, it was the fourth highest performer, garnering top marks for features and ventilation and breathability. It proved to be no slouch at protecting from the weather as well, ranking right up there with the Dynafit Radical.
Overall, the weather protection afforded by the CloudSeeker was found to be excellent. Its hem and sleeves were plenty long for keeping out snow while skiing and never rode up. It also came with a powder skirt, a nice feature for when the snow is really deep, or when riding the lifts and weight is no concern.
When it came to our downpour simulating shower test, we found the CloudSeeker to offer excellent protection. It was completely waterproof, as expected, and we found no leaks at any zippers. The hood was plenty large enough to give full coverage without a helmet but was only barely big enough with a helmet on. It was not as deep or as protective as the slightly better Arc'teryx Alpha FL. The DWR coating remained intact after our test period and did an impressive job of forcing water to bead up and fall off.
We tested a men's size medium jacket and found it to weigh 1 lb. 6.4 oz. on our independent scale. This was the heavier jackets in this review.
We gave it a score of 2 out of 10, tied with The North Face FuseForm as the lowest score when it came to weight. The weight conscious can unzip the powder skirt to save two ounces, but all the zippers and pockets found on this jacket do come with a cost — weight. However, in the grand scheme, this still isn't very heavy.
Mobility and Fit
Our head tester is 6'0" and weighs around 160 lbs. He has moderately broad shoulders but a skinny torso, and we chose to order a size medium at the behest of Mountain Hardwear's website. It fit fantastic, with enough room in the torso for layering some warmth, but without a tight or baggy cut. The hem was long and easily stayed in place, and the sleeves were also long enough that they never rode up our arms. However, we did find the fit of the collar to be mildly constricting, especially when worn without the hood over our head.
When it came to mobility, this jacket was right up there with the Outdoor Research Interstellar. We loved how quiet the fabric was to move in, and the stretchy 20D face fabric was much appreciated. Because of the constriction we felt in the collar we couldn't score this up there with the best, but still gave it a 7 out of 10, on par with the mobility we felt in the Patagonia Pluma.
Venting and Breathability
The CloudSeeker was without doubt among the best performers when it came to venting and breathability, combining an air-permeable Dry.Q Elite membrane with a ton of large, effective vents.
For ventilation, this jacket has two zippers that run along the back of the shoulder down the tricep, similar to the ones found on the Dynafit Radical. It also has two huge front pockets backed with airy mesh that double as vents, and open up almost the entire height of the chest on each side. Finally, the two-way front zipper allows one to open the zipper from the bottom, a nice venting option when it is storming out because the top of the jacket can remain closed. Simply put, no other jacket had even close to the amount of ventilation as this one did, enabling us to wear it comfortably on the uphill even in the full sun.
Besides the large collection of awesome vents that we just described, the CloudSeeker comes with many other features designed for skiing that show its designers put in the time to get things right. It was once again a top scorer with a perfect 10, slightly higher than the Patagonia Pluma because it had more innovative features which also worked great.
The two giant chest vents also serve as massive pockets and have mesh drop pockets sewn onto the inside of them. We found these to be perfect for storing skins on the downhill, enabling one to quickly transition without even needing to take off the pack. It also has a hard-backed chest pocket with a media port, in addition to a zippered internal chest pocket with a media port as well, allowing multiple locations where you can store your phone and still have your headphone cord running inside the jacket. Finally, there is another internal stash pocket, great for a hat, gloves, or extra accessories that you want to keep warm (Clif bar?).
We already mentioned how this jacket has a removable powder skirt that buttons in the front and can attach to the top of your pants or belt. It also comes with a Recco reflector to aid rescue personnel. We love the dual Cohaesive buckles that help tighten the hood in conjunction with pull cords that are on the outside of the collar, our favorite setup for easy adjustability and release with fat gloves on. Also, dual tiny Cohaesive buckles are used for the pull cords on the hem. Overall, there was no aspect of this jacket that seemed to be overlooked or neglected, and everything worked just as well as it could have.
The Mountain Hardwear CloudSeeker is designed specifically with backcountry skiing in mind, and this is where it will excel. It also has a ton of skiing specific features that will make it a perfect choice for skiing at the resorts. While it could easily be called into service for some ice climbing or backpacking, we would likely choose lighter, simpler jackets as our primary choice for these activities.
This jacket retails for $500. While this is not cheap, it is also not as expensive as a few of the other hardshells in this review. It was one of the highest scorers in our testing and was worthy of our Top Pick award. If you intend to use it for shredding the backcountry, we think it is certainly worth the money and presents a good value.
The Mountain Hardwear CloudSeeker is a unique jacket which has many backcountry skiing related features that we have not seen on a three-layer hardshell before. The most notable of these is its very liberal use of vents that double as large pockets suitable for skins or gloves. It was versatile and perfectly suited for both the uphill and downhill and was one of our testers' favorite jackets to wear.
— Andy Wellman